Las Vegas, NV — Launched in 2008 (for the 2009 model year), the previous Nissan 370Z – which ceased to exist a year ago – was overdue for a complete overhaul. Fortunately, the automaker has been working on the renaissance of the Z moniker since 2017, as Taruma-San, chief product specialist for the Nissan Z, confirmed at this first drive event in the city that Never Sleeps.
The new car needed some well-deserved attention both on the outside and inside, while a new drivetrain was also in the mix to make the Z great again. This new drivetrain also had to deliver at least 400 horsepower. It’s already safe to say that on these two points, the automaker delivered what it has promised: the car unveiled last summer looks quite different in a retro-tastic flavour and the twin-turbo V6 engine comes with 400 horses on tap. But what about the rest of the car, especially in terms of driving dynamics? A Nissan Z, despite its affordable-ish price tag, must be excellent in that matter, a recipe has seen elsewhere in the auto industry, a Ford Mustang for example.
Nissan kind of lives up to that statement with a starting price of $46,498 for the manual transmission Sport version, the most affordable model in the lineup. On the other hand, that’s quite an increase over the least expensive 370Z from 2021, which started at $30,498! The good news is that the new 2023 Nissan Z, the sixth generation of Z-badged cars, will hit the road (starting this summer) with a lot more equipment.
This major redesign draws heavily on the model’s past, notably the Datsun 240Z – the prettiest in the history of the model according to many fans – but also on the 300ZX from the 1990s era with this rear end featuring the signature (LED) marker lights of the fourth generation. The manufacturer hopes to bring back a bit of sportivity in the lineup with this latest iteration of the Z model. Then again, this major price increase might scare off a few fans, especially the ones that were interested in the nicely equipped versions.
Up front, the Datsun 240Z inspiration is clear. The gaping front opening and almond-shaped headlights recall the design of the first Z, while the hood with its central hump also points to the model’s past. The car’s silhouette is also faithful to the first Z, thanks in particular to the longer overhang – the new twin-turbo V6 requires two intercoolers, which explains the longer nose -, but also this silver stripe that follows the roofline towards the end of the rear window. Finally, the rear section features a signature design borrowed from the 300ZX of the 90s, the LED lights that are incorporated into this strip that runs across the width of the car and is embellished with the brand’s badge in the middle. There are two versions of the car: Sport and Performance, the latter of which can be recognized by its 19-inch Rays wheels and oversized brakes, not to mention the small spoiler at the end of the trunk. There is also a Proto Spec for 2023, a model even more expensive than the Performance, but also more limited in terms of production numbers.
An updated interior
There’s also a touch of nostalgia inside, with the dashboard featuring the traditional three gauges and the “Z” logo in the center of the multifunction steering wheel. But the Z still needs to step out of the past to appeal to today’s drivers. That’s why the car comes with two screens, one behind the steering wheel and the other a touch-sensitive screen right in the middle of the passenger compartment. In the Canadian market, the size of the touchscreen is limited to 8-inch, while the American market receives a 9-inch screen.
The designers kept the traditional knobs for the climate controls and that’s fine by us. The Nissan Z goes on with only two seats, like the last two generations of the model, but these are not very comfortable, and the side support is insufficient, especially on the track. As for the trunk, it certainly adds some cargo space to the car, but we’re not talking about a very utilitarian volume here.
Track and Road
Our first contact with the Z took place in two stages: first on a closed course at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then on a twisty road in the Nevada desert. While it’s true that the new Z accelerates much better thanks to the increase in power and torque – and even a launch control system which didn’t work well in my case – it’s a bit more difficult on a track, as the Z doesn’t stay planted enough in the corners. The cause here is a softer than expected suspension. On the other hand, the Z car is much more well-mannered on the road, even at a sustained pace.
Nissan’s sports car is more comfortable and can even be described as a grand touring car (GT). What’s more, handling has been improved with wider tires and a stiffer chassis. The Performance version’s brakes are the same as the ones used on the old 370Z Nismo, no less, and these work well with the new car. The twin-turbo V6 is also a charm to rev up, although the sound of the 6-cylinder isn’t as throaty as the old VQ37. In a good old-fashioned sports car kind of way, the Z continues to be available with a six-speed manual transmission that, while not the most precise in the industry, is easy to handle. The other option, a new nine-speed automatic unit, proves to be very well suited to the 6-cylinder engine and remains the best option for straight line accelerations.
Sadly, this 2023 Nissan Z is the last of its kind… with an ICE powertrain. We’ll just have to wait to see if Nissan is interested (or capable) in building a true successor for the Z… in an electric form!
While we wait, the 2023 Nissan Z is a much better car than the one it replaces, but the price hike is steep. Hopefully, for the brand, this new base price doesn’t come as an obstacle for the model, even if it’s a niche car. The Nissan Z needs to end on a high note and this first drive proves that ICE sports cars are still a joy to drive on a winding road, with nothing else than the next curve to think about…